Next year's phones will have 5G modems whether or not the network is there to support them yet. But there's another piece of the puzzle; the antenna that will pick up the signal.
Qualcomm has been telling us for some time that its X50 modem is coming and it says the first devices with these antennas will debut in early 2019. Expect next year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February to be dominated by 5G.
Yes, we really should expect early 2019's Galaxy S10, LG G8 ThinQ and Sony XZ4 to feature them.
And now it has debuted the fingertip-sized QTM052 mmWave antenna module to go alongside it (plus there's a new sub-6Ghz RF module, too). Samples are already with device makers.
Qualcomm vice president of tech Dino Flore says the work for network operators will take longer. "X50 will be used for testing next year for operators...commercialisation will depend on the different geographies and operator requirements." While your phone might be 5G-capable this time next year, operator rollout will take a lot longer.
The mmWave (millimetre wave, referring to the actual wavelength) will offer ultrafast throughput speeds (up to 5Ghz downloads) but has a problem - it's extremely easy to interfere with it. Houses, people, dogs, whatever - they'll all get in the way. mmWave has a problem with them. And that means it needs a super-clever antenna to work.
As with beamforming antennas in things like networking devices, clever tech can be applied to get around obstacles. Not only that, but the X50 modem can support four different antenna arrays so device manufacturers can include them in each bezel of a phone and so reduce the chance of the signal being blocked.
Of course, there's shedloads of work to be done by networks and regulators on 5G but, like a supertanker out of the mist, it'll be on top of us before we know it.
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